A few years back, the fine folks at Football Outsiders introduced us to SackSEER, a regression-based formula developed to predict the NFL success of edge rushers selected in the NFL Draft.
The current formula ( it seems to change on an almost yearly basis) is based on five metrics:
- an explosion index combining forty-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump results
- a prospect's three-cone drill results
- adjusted sacks per game in college (with some playing time adjustments)
- passes defensed per college game played
- number of medical redshirts the player either received or for which he was eligible
Additionally, the formula incorporates an edge rusher's projected draft position (per NFL Draft Scout). This is a very interesting addition as the formula now includes a scouting element, where previously it was almost exclusively a stat-based metric.
On Tuesday, Football Outsiders published their SackSEER numbers for college edge rushers in the 2016 NFL Draft class. SackSEER is not the be-all and end-all of statistical analysis, and FO themselves have argued that it is more accurate at identifying busts than it is at singling out potential stars, but it is definitely worth a detailed look. Which is exactly what we'll do today.
If you're not familiar with SackSEER, here's a brief outline of how it works: Using the metrics outlined above, the SackSEER formula projects each prospect's total sacks through five NFL seasons. Although there are always outliers in the individual projections, when accumulating all the individual numbers, FO have found that the formula projects sack production about three times more accurately than simply going by a player's draft position within the first two rounds.
The model is not without its detractors, and the initial model famously missed on the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, who met his five-year sack projection in his first year in the league. In 2011, the model completely missed out on Bruce Irvin, who had eight sacks for the Seahawks. In 2013, FO projected Barkevious Mingo as the top pass rusher in the draft, but in FO's own words, Mingo "has yet to make a major impact." This is one key reason why FO continuously work on improving their model
But harping on a few high-profile misses is always easier than looking at the overall accuracy of the model. Applying the model to edge rushers drafted into the NFL since 1999 yields more accurate predictions than misses. So don't discard the model just because of some high profile misses. For the most part, the model is fairly accurate.
But before we dive into this year's class of edge rushers, let's review the top eight prospects from last year's draft lass as measured by SackSEER, keeping in mind that the projection is for five years, and not just the rookie season:
|Vic Beasley||Clemson||1 (8)
|Randy Gregory||Nebraska||2 (60)||32.2||- -|
|Alvin Dupree||Kentucky||1 (22)
|Eli Harold||Virginia||3 (79)
|Preston Smith||Mississippi State||2 (38)
|Dante Fowler Jr.||Florida||1 (3)
|Shane Ray||Missouri||1 (23)
|Danielle Hunter||LSU||3 (88)||20.1||6.0|
This list has got to be a little disappointing for Cowboys fans, given that Randy Gregory failed to make much of an impact as a pass rusher despite his high projection. But Cowboys fans don't have to look far to get their hopes up: Demarcus Lawrence was one of the also-rans on the FO list in 2014 and was projected for just 12 sacks though five NFL seasons. After a slow start to his rookie season (two sacks in the playoffs), he showed up with eight sacks last year. Perhaps Gregory will have a similar second year.
Here's how the top eight edge rushers of this year's draft class stack up:
|Joey Bosa||Ohio State||1||26.8|
|Emmanuel Ogbah||Oklahoma State||1-2||25.6|
|Noah Spence||Eastern Kentucky||1-2||20.8|
|Shilique Calhoun||Michigan State||2||17.5|
Cowboys fan favorites like Matt Judon (7.5 sacks), Alex McCalister (6.1) or Ronald Blair (0.0) fail to make the list entirely.
The Cowboys invited three edge rushers for official pre-draft visits this year. Bosa and Lawson show up prominently in the list above, Kevin Dodd misses the list with 11.9 projected sacks. If the Cowboys draft Dodd, we can only hope the Cowboys' scouting acumen tops FO's statistical acumen the way it did with Demarcus Lawrence, who had almost the same exact projection.
Overall, the model suggests that this year's class is weaker at the top than last year's class, which had two prospects with a projection above 30. But it's better at the top than the 2014 class, which had just three prospects with a projection above 20. The 2014 class also serves as a warning of sorts. In two years in the NFL, the top three guys from that class have combined for just seven sacks
This year, the Cowboys have the pick of the pass rush litter. They could take Joey Bosa with their first pick or they could trade down for Shaq Lawson. Here's what FO wrote about each of them:
Joey Bosa: SackSEER expects Joey Bosa to have a strong NFL career, but the system feels he is somewhat overrated as a possible No. 1 overall selection.
However, Bosa's explosion numbers were a little below average: he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.86 seconds, had a vertical leap of 33 inches, and had a 10-foot broad jump. Edge rushers with those types of explosion numbers have certainly been successful before, but none have ever been drafted in the top five. It adds up to Bosa being a below-average "top-five prospect."
Overall, SackSEER projects Bosa to be a solid, but not spectacular player.
Shaq Lawson: Shaq Lawson was one of the top defenders on the No. 2 ranked team in the country. However, SackSEER is only lukewarm on his prospects. Lawson is a bit of a one-hit wonder: he had 12.5 sacks in 15 games as a junior, but he had only 7.5 sacks in his first two seasons. Lawson also had only one pass defensed over the course of his career, which is a major red flag. Lawson did have a solid combine workout, however, which included a nice 10-foot broad jump.
If you're in the Cowboys front office and looking to improve the Cowboys' defense, what do you do? Do you take one of this year's top edge rushers, even though FO doesn't rate them quite as high as some previous prospects? Or do you trust your scouting department to deliver another "quarterback hunter" like they did with Demarcus Lawrence?
Or do you go after a corner or linebacker instead?